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Dazed and Confused Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 2007

Image “Dazed and Confused,” Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his loose, improvisatory Austin roundabout, “Slacker” follows more than a dozen characters for one night, immediately after school has closed for the summer. Set in 1976, it’s a natural bridge between the fragmentary, plotless “Slacker” and his later films with tighter narratives. As the last day of school ends, the film catalogues the adventures of high school students in different grades through the evening and early morning, while their personal stories and tiny character arcs collide.

Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jeremy London) is the football team’s quarterback and will be entering his Senior year in the fall, but he’s starting to rebel and is conflicted about hypocritically signing a conduct pledge given to him by his coach. Junior high student, Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) is beset by a gang of about-to-be Seniors going around walloping all the incoming freshmen. The downtrodden Tony (Anthony Rapp) and Mike (Adam Goldberg) view the freshmen abuse from a distance, and want to join the upcoming party while Benny (Cole Hauser), O’Bannion (Ben Affleck) and Darla (Parker Posey) are determined to give the new freshman hell.

An interwoven series of character vignettes rather than a story, “Dazed and Confused” owes a great debt to George Lucas’s “American Graffiti.” Whereas, George Lucas was capturing the local cruising and car-hop culture of his teenage years in the early 60’s, Linklater’s film is focused on the following generation, where the dreams and desires are the same, but the trappings, pop culture and music have changed. While “American Graffiti” is similarly fragmented in its storytelling, it has an edge because it takes place in the main characters’ last summer after graduating. The characters being poised between the end of school and the beginning of adulthood, with whatever fate lies beyond, gives the loose, funny events a sense of importance, since we know that they will not last. “Dazed and Confused” chooses a less defined area to take place—the summer prior to Senior year. Linklater is clearly leaning on the Jeremy London character to give the finale a sense of the characters’ somewhat indeterminate future; it’s an interesting, but slightly awkward choice. Perhaps Linklater changed the characters’ ages simply to avoid too many comparisons to “American Graffiti.” While Richard Dreyfuss and Ron Howard get the lion’s share of scenes in Lucas’s film, the narrative here is almost evenly divided among the characters. The actors’ charisma and their characters’ likeability, not the script, tend to make them stand out. Jeremy London is a likeable (ostensibly) lead and Wiley Wiggins is perfectly cast as awkward teenager Mitch Kramer. Wiggins captures the nervous, twitchy and shy mannerisms of a teenager so well, it’s unclear whether it’s a performance or real nerves. Regardless of what’s driving the performance, what it captures on the screen is a terrific portrait of an awkward age, full of nervous fears, confusion and doubt. The rest of the cast is fine. There are many familiar faces on display, a few on the cusp of stardom (Affleck and Jovovich), and the majority of them with solid slates of work ahead of them. Adam Goldberg has a particularly strong group of scenes and one where his rising anger toward the vision of living a life of fear and mild oppression is terrific.

While pot is fairly omnipresent throughout the film, and a source of comedy at points, it’s more of a background element, like the film’s songs. The ‘70’s costume, design, hair and other elements are just superficial trappings, not a target of the comedy and aren’t important to the story. Because the film takes the ‘70’s elements in stride, and because of its general tone, it feels more like a faithful recreation of a teenage summer comedy from the late ‘70’s. In a way, it’s as authentic a recreation of a film era and genre as “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra,” only with Corvettes and bell-bottoms. This element gives it as close a kinship with films like “Meatballs,” “The Van” and “Pick-up Summer” as it does with “American Graffiti.” Tellingly, “Dazed and Confused” can most likely be credited with inspiring similar ’70’s era recreations like Detroit Rock City” and TV’s “That ‘70’s Show.”

Universal’s HD DVD release is a pristine rendition of the film. The colors are vivid and eye catching, and the image is extremely sharp and detailed. The print source is nearly blemish-free and the photography is given a bit of luster. Encoding and HD DVD compression are excellent—the film is crisp and stable with nary a compression artifact. There are a few scattered grainy shots, but these are evidence of photographic grain, and not encoding artifacts. The Dolby Digital Plus sound is excellent. It’s a very front-focused mix, with very little activity in the surround channels, but the sound is clean and the dialogue well recorded. The film has a few well-chosen songs and the music is particularly well presented on the HD DVD. The stereo separation of the songs is terrific, and the punchy, vibrant presentation gives the film’s musical interludes some extra energy and life.

This Universal release replicates their recent standard DVD special edition. It’s fairly slim as far as extras go, but those included are enjoyable, if lightweight. There are 9 deleted scenes, which are cute but not essential. It’s not a plot-heavy enterprise, so some questions that are answered, such as “How did the bullies know that Mitch Kramer was going to be at the baseball game?” aren’t crucial bits of the film, but are interesting to see, anyway. “The Blunt Truth” is a short faux anti-marijuana promo, done in the style of (and using footage from) classroom films of the 60’s and 70’s. The best of the bonus features is the inclusion of the two retro public service announcements, one of which is the famous anti-litter commercial featuring the memorable crying Indian, played by Iron Eyes Cody. It’s a great nostalgia kick to have a copy of it. (As a footnote, trivia buffs will enjoy knowing that Iron Eyes Cody was actually Espera De Corti, in reality was not Native American at all, but of Sicilian parentage.) There’s also a Criterion standard DVD release of “Dazed and Confused” with a voluminous package of worthwhile bonus materials. As far as the film itself, though, and as far as its picture and sound quality goes, the HD DVD release is the best on the market.

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